Big Goals, Little Goals

“Do all the things!” It’s an adaptation of a popular meme from the blog Hyperbole and a Half, written and illustrated by Allie Brosh. Brosh’s cartoon version of herself has pledged to “Clean ALL the things!” in a manic burst of well-intentioned productivity. It’s all a part of her plan to simultaneously master every aspect of her life … and constantly stay on top of all of it. But she’s only able to sustain it for a very short time.

The truth is, she’s not alone. “Do all the things!” has become the frenzied cry of an overburdened, amped-up culture—and as a mantra, it has a fatal flaw. If you’re trying to do all the things, all the things will suffer.

We all have a lot of things to do. Good things. Great things. But doing them all helter skelter, amidst a jumbled pile of calendar invites, Evernotes, Wunderlists and to-dos results in poor-quality work and quick burn-out.

So, what’s the solution?

Enter, the goal.

Goal-setting isn’t new, but it is effective.  And a lot of people don’t actually do it because it takes time and planning up front. You know how setting up all your bills on automatic bill pay takes a whole afternoon, but then your bills just pay themselves every month ever after? Goal-setting is like that.

So, get to it—it’s worth it. Here’s how to start.

Set big goals and little goals. Two easy-to-remember acronyms are “BHAG” and “SMART goals.” A BHAG is a big, hairy, audacious goal—a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.  SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Working together, these big goals and little goals can help make your daily life much more productive.

Let’s look at it this way. Shandra has a couple of months left in law school and she puts a sticky note on her monitor that says ‘Become a partner!’ Making partner at a prestigious law firm is her BHAG. That sticky note reminder alone will not help her get to the corner office, so she adds in some smaller SMART goals.

For Shandra, her list of SMART goals for the next year might look like this:

-Study for the bar in June

-Apply to the state’s top five law firms by October

-Contribute to six positive rulings in six months

These concrete SMART goals give Shandra plenty to focus on, a manageable timeframe to work in and the feeling of success as she gets each step closer to her BHAG.

Whether you’re a leader setting goals for your team or you’re setting goals for yourself, try these tips for setting practical, SMART goals that will help you reach your BHAGs:

1. Break your BHAG down into time-based chunks. If you want to someday own a restaurant (your BHAG), think in one-month and one-year chunks (your SMART goals).
What can you do this month? You can take a business refresher course.  What can you do this year? You can save $10,000 in investment capital.

2. Set goals with measureable or tangible results. Don’t just say, “Nelson Realty hopes to have a great quarter!” Instead, say, “We will sell sixteen homes and generate 100 new leads by the end of summer.” We work best when we work toward something specific.

3. Make adjustments if you don’t reach your goal. Failing to hit a goal doesn’t mean your BHAG is doomed. It just means you need to figure out a different route.

4. Celebrate the wins. The benefit of setting both short-term and long-term goals is that you’ll cross a lot of short-term finish lines on your way to the big prize. If you lead a team, model what celebration looks like for your employees. If you’re setting goals for yourself, let others know that you’ve finished reading your tenth book this year or that you’ve paid off your credit card. What gets celebrated gets repeated.

Get serious about how you work—make each hour and each week that you work more effective by working toward specific goals. With a little bit of friendly goal-setting up front, you really will be able to “Do all the things!”